Five players competing here this year have reached at least one Grand Slam final during their careers but are still bidding for their first major titles, including No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev. The Russian will face Frances Tiafoe in one of the must-see first-round matches at the Australian Open.
Tiafoe is 3-16 against Top 10 opponents having not claimed such victories since last year’s Australian Open, when he defeated Kevin Anderson, then-World No.6. The instinctive American, aiming for his first Top 5 win ever, also beat Grigor Dimitrov en route to the quarter-finals and consequently broke into the Top 30 for the first time.
He beat Medvedev in a qualifying match in Nice in 2015. Last summer, however, the Russian clinched a straight-sets victory in Washington. The Russian, who put together a 20-3 record on the North American summer hard-courts, culminating in the memorable US Open final, beat Tiafoe 6-2 7-5 at the Citi Open.
During that match, Tiafoe flicked a backhand volley and turn his back to his opponent believing he had sealed an epic rally. Medvedev disagreed, changed direction to track down the ball and drilled a stunning winner.
The Russian beat three Top 20 opponents in five matches at the ATP Cup, while Tiafoe looks to avoid the third consecutive first-round exit after the defeats in Doha and Auckland. He averaged nine aces per match in the last 52 weeks, and his powerful first and second serves could make the difference against the peculiar American, whose attack-minded game lacks consistency on return.
Nick Kyrgios leads the 11 Australian men competing at this year’s Australian Open following the withdrawal of Alex de Minaur. He’s bidding to become the first home-grown singles champion here since Mark Edmondson in 1976, and the first finalist since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005. An Australian man has reached the final at a Grand Slam event only 10 times since Pat Cash’s 1988 final appearance in Melbourne, and only once at the Australian Open.
Kyrgios will meet Lorenzo Sonego, the young Italian fighter whom he beat in Cincinnati last summer. The Australian gave glimpses of his jaw-dropping shot-making, but after the match, he shared on his social networks one of his opponent’s hot-shots.
The Australian reached the quarter-finals in 2015 and the fourth round in 2018 in Melbourne. This year he seems to have the crowd on his own side despite his controversial behaviour, as it happened during the ATP Cup.
The Italian often manages to give his best when the atmosphere becomes more intense. During his previous clash against the Australian, he was surprised by his opponent’s unpredictability. He also learned he had to work on his return. Sonego seems ready to fight, having less to lose than Kyrgios. It won’t probably be enough to win, but the match promises to be extremely entertaining.
Restricted to only eight tournaments and 15 matches in 2019 due to shoulder and left fore-arm injuries, Maria Sharapova reached the fourth round R16 at 2019 Australian Open defeating the defending champion Caroline Wozniacki for her first Top 5 win since ousting No.2 Halep at 2017 US Open first round.
In his 58th main draw appearance at a Grand Slam, the fifth-most among active players, the Russian will face the No.19 seed Donna Vekic. Sharapova defeated her at 2018 Roland Garros to move into the third round in Paris for the 13th time in her career.
Both players used every inch of the court during that match. Sharapova used her forehand to dictate play and tried to defend her lead with some wily drop-shots, while Vekic replied with solid serves or stunning backhands.
The five-time Grand Slam champion, who won the Australian Open in 2008 and lost three further finals (2007, 2012, 2015), lost to Jennifer Brady in the first match of her 2020 campaign.
Her competitive spirit remains untouched, but she needs to fight to shorten the points from the baseline. She began to miss her old power and effectiveness from the back.
Vekic, contesting her 26th Grand Slam main draw, has the game to upset Sharapova and improve her best result at the Australian Open where she hasn’t moved past the second round. The former World No.1, however, knows how to improve her level when it matters the most.
Prediction: Sharapova in three sets
Play begins at 11am (Midnight GMT).
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